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Hialeah officially condemns Biden for a migrant surge in the city, but evidence is limited

With the mayor saying that tens of thousands of migrants are overrunning the community, Hialeah’s City Council voted Tuesday to admonish the Biden administration’s “open border policies” and demand that the federal government put tighter restrictions in place to stem the flow of people coming from the southern border to northwest Miami-Dade County.

“We are seeing thousands and thousands of people crossing the border and coming to places like this city. And for this reason we need to scream so we are heard. And we are hoping that this resolution does that,” Council President Jesus Tundidor told reporters.

The resolution, proposed by Councilman Bryan Calvo and approved by a 5-0 vote, states that the influx of migrants has “brought significant social and economic challenges to the city,” and that Hialeah has not received the money and support it needs to address the resulting problems. Council members Carl Zogby and Monica Perez were absent.

The vote by Hialeah’s City Council — which in November named one of the city’s principal avenues after Trump — echoes criticisms from top Republican leaders and conservative detractors in Washington and elsewhere who say the border is open and out of control.

The Biden administration has rolled out a package of policies to curb irregular immigration amid historic numbers at the U.S.-Mexico border. It has created family reunification programs and a parole process for several Latin American and Caribbean countries, announced further border wall construction and struck deals to deport non-Mexicans to Mexico. Biden, who like Trump is visiting the southern border on Thursday, is also currently considering limiting asylum access there.

A bipartisan immigration bill, criticized on both sides of the aisle in Washington, fell through earlier this month after Trump encouraged Republicans to oppose it so that he could continue to hammer Biden over immigration — an issue that a majority of voters are identifying as a “very serious problem.”

Mayor Esteban Bovo, who co-sponsored Tuesday’s resolution, requested that the document mention that the city is conducting a series of “immigration workshops” intended to help officials understand the impact of migrant arrivals in Hialeah, the first of which took place on Monday.

While officials have yet to clearly link limited data of increases in city services to an uptick in migrant arrivals, Bovo has pointed fingers at newly arrived migrants for exacerbating Hialeah’s housing problems.

READ MORE: How a migrant influx is causing tensions in one of the most Hispanic cities in the U.S.

He estimates that from the over 420,000 Cubans that have come to the U.S. in recent years, roughly 150,000 or more have ended up in Hialeah, which according to the U.S. Census had about 220,000 residents as of two years ago.

“Nothing here should be construed as anti-immigrant, in any shape or form,” Bovo told reporters after the Monday workshop. “My job is to make sure that the money that comes into the coffers of the city are being invested in the right possible way. I need to get an understanding of who’s in our city.”

Fuzzy numbers

When asked how the arrival of new migrants is affecting the city, Tundidor said that Hialeah is facing a scarcity of housing that is fueling the illegal home market, as more people rent RVs to live in them. He also mentioned petty crimes.

“If you have many people in the city, maybe they don’t have a work permit, can’t find jobs, they start to walk around and they get in trouble,” he said.

Police Chief George Fuente did not mention data on petty crimes at Monday’s forum. Rather, Hialeah officials reported an increase in citations for driving without a valid license, bus rides, arrests of homeless people and the use of illegal units, including RVs. The mayor said that from 2022 to 2023 the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issued 40,000 drivers licenses to immigrants with zip code in Hialeah, compared to 34,000 licenses for non-immigrants.

View of a recreational vehicle in East Hialeah. The city approved a restrictive ordinance to prevent the use of RVs being rented as alternative housing. Hialeah, FL, Tuesday, September 26, 2023
View of a recreational vehicle in East Hialeah. The city approved a restrictive ordinance to prevent the use of RVs being rented as alternative housing. Hialeah, FL, Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Police Department noted a 4% rise in calls for their services, as well as a notable rise in traffic accidents. The building department reported an increase in housing code violations. Fire department spokesman Paul Garcia said crews recently received an emergency call that led them to an undocumented person who was living in a storage container and experiencing a heart attack.

“We understand that this is going to lead to personnel shortages, because if there’s more people that we need to attend to, that means we need to add trucks and personnel,” said Garcia.

Fuente called the uptick in service-related calls “an obvious sign that we have many more individuals living or visiting the City of Hialeah,” but acknowledged that he didn’t know whether they were a result of new residents from outside the United States.

“What I can decipher with those numbers is that there is more population, but I can’t tell you if that population is migrant or not,” he said.

Hialeah, Florida, February 26, 2024 - Chief George Fuentes of the Hialeah Police Department speaks during his presentation in the Hialeah Council Chambers. Mayor Esteban Bovo, Jr. and the City Council hosted an Immigration Forum where different city departments discussed how the influx in immigration has impacted the City of Hialeah and the services it provides to residents. The Police Chief, George Fuente, emphasized the increase of service-related call as a clear indicator of a growing population, stating, “That’s an obvious sign that we have many more individuals living or visiting the City of Hialeah”

Bovo has said that Hialeah’s population, which is 95% Latino, is undercounted and therefore unknown because many people won’t participate in the Census, which the federal government uses to allot funding to states and cities. He and other Hialeah officials have said some residents are afraid of sharing personal information with the federal government because they mistrust or don’t want to reveal that they live in illegal housing or with more people than they are supposed to.

The Census Bureau has acknowledged that Hispanics and Latinos were undercounted in 2020 at a national level.

But so far, Bovo doesn’t seem keen on applying with the federal government for a special census count, as proposed by Councilwoman Angelica Pacheco, which would allow for a federal recount of Hialeah’s residents.

“If it costs me $5 million to do it, I can already tell you that it won’t happen,” said Bovo, though it’s unclear if the Hialeah government has asked the Census Bureau for a cost estimate.

Former Mayor Raul Martínez, the first Hispanic and longest-tenured Hialeah mayor, requested a recount census in 1985. Martínez had to grapple with the impact of the Mariel mass exodus in 1980, first as a council member and then as mayor, when about 125,000 Cubans left from the Port of Mariel near Havana to Florida over a span of six months.

“We were losing money. We needed the people in Hialeah to be counted, because it was going to bring economic benefits from the federal, state and county governments,” he recalled. “If Hialeah is suffering the consequences of the new influx of immigrants, why won’t the mayor request a new census?”

Martínez, a Democrat who addressed a surge in violent crimes after the Mariel boatlift, doesn’t believe that Hialeah is seeing a negative impact in the latest wave of Cuban arrivals and thinks that the city is trying to “vilify the recent Cuban immigrants.”

“This narrative appears to be a strategic move to criticize and condemn the Biden administration, perpetuating a skewed perspective for political purposes,” the former mayor said to el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald.

View of a person sleeping on the floor of a strip shopping mall early morning located next to the Home Depot parking lot at 1590 W 49th St, in Hialeah, as many people have been forced to sleep in their cars or in the streets due to the increase of the rents across Miami-Dade County, on Wednesday, February 14, 2024.
View of a person sleeping on the floor of a strip shopping mall early morning located next to the Home Depot parking lot at 1590 W 49th St, in Hialeah, as many people have been forced to sleep in their cars or in the streets due to the increase of the rents across Miami-Dade County, on Wednesday, February 14, 2024.

The city’s next immigration workshop, slated for March 11, will include employees of the DMV, city and county programs, as well as some churches that have been helping migrants at risk of homelessness.